Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Ten Reasons Why Writing is Harder Than You Think

And so it has come to this. A year that I ushered in by completing the first draft of a 550-page novel is now eight seven months before the mast and the novel only feels that much farther from being ready. That's not a whine (much as it sounds like one), as much as a completely adjusted perspective on just what an undertaking a novel really becomes when one is fully present about crafting prose instead of showing off his 100,000-words-in-a-month parlor trick.

And what an adjustment that has proved to be.

From 2000 to 2012 I wrote seven different manuscripts -- fiction and non-fiction alike -- in addition to contributing (irregularly) to this blog, revising and submitting short stories, and by the way teaching a full load at one or the other of the two colleges in my town. Those of you who write do not need to hear me say that these documents were generally pretty ragged and often downright terrible. The lesson of those quasi-lost years would seem to be that, sure, you can write a book and a third during your month-long trip to Eastern Europe... but not if you also expect anyone who isn't a blood relative or a first-circle friend to read it when you're finished.

Writing, it turns out, is friggin' *hard*. To make anything worth showing to a wider audience an author has to be completely present about every thought, every paragraph, every sentence, every word. And then after typing the signoff he or she must leave the room, and then return in a few days to tear the whole thing apart and start over. Again and again and again and again and, again. In the face of that kind of demand on one's resources the idea that I might have ever published any of the earlier crashed efforts is downright laughable.

But writing is also friggin' hard for a variety of other reasons, too: some of which are less than obvious and others of which are rarely accorded the full weight of their due. Some of which are things no one ever told me. Some of which are things I never even really considered until I went through this non-consensual transformation into the stately turtle you see before you now. And yes, your mileage may vary: writing is about talent, too, and not just perseverance, and a more talented writer may not experience everything on this list as acutely -- or at all. But this column isn't for them; it's for the rest of us: the journeymen. The folks who, like me, aren't procrastinating, aren't "blocked," aren't putting off until tomorrow what can be typed or penned today, and who still find the job of creating a worthy piece of art as seemingly elusive as ever.

These are the ten reasons why writing isn't just hard, in other words, but harder than you think:

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